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The funeral went well. It had only been a small ceremony but everybody had a good time. Arthur?s mother?s ghost put in an appearance of course; a little late which was unusual for her. ?Ah, there you are Arthur,? she said, ?doing things on the cheap again I see.?


On the cheap? Arthur stares into the small heap of glowing embers and supposes it must look that way. But he knows it?s no use trying to explain things to his mother?s ghost. She doesn?t listen. No point in telling her he had offered to pay for a proper funeral at a wat but Tui had said no. This, Tui had said, was what her mother had wanted. To be burned in the cassava patch behind the house on the village edge. No coffin, no monk, no fuss.


Arthur?s mother-in-law had finally died two nights ago. She?d been a small stick insect of a woman, wizened and worn out, not much more than a bundle of dry twigs really with gnarled claw-like hands. Towards the end of her life she had been carried to the edge of her raised hut every day, often by Arthur himself, so that she could watch the activity on the dusty village street.


A small, unpretentious ceremony was what she had wanted and that was what she got. For two days Arthur and Tui and a few children had gathered dry branches and scraps of wood. When they had enough they had made the old woman as comfortable as possible on the pyre and set light to her.


A few villagers showed up to pay their respects some bringing firewood or incense, whatever they could spare to help her soul on its journey. A motley group they were. The Avon lady. The village idiot. And an old man Arthur hadn?t seen before.

?Who?s that then?? he asked.

?Fen,? said Tui, ?mair mee yert.?


The fire crackled and burned. The small crinkled face blackened, and flared like dry paper and soon the body was reduced to a sizzling torso. The viscera, Arthur supposed, would be damp and stubborn. Tui passed him a sharp bamboo stick and made poking gestures. Soon Arthur found himself trying to move the fleshier portions of Tui?s mother closer to the heat source. At one point he accidentally got his stick caught between a couple of charred ribs and watched blobs of fat drop onto the flames. Meat, thought Arthur. When you get right down to it that?s what we are. Except for the spirit part of course. Whatever that may be. He felt closer to the old woman as she burned than he had in life.


Flashback to a damp day in Tunbridge Wells. Rain dripping on rhododendron leaves. A line of black cars parked on gravel outside the Tranquil Gardens Crematorium. His own mother arriving majestically in an ornate black casket that slid slowly on rollers into a concealed furnace while a tape played antiseptic organ music somewhere, the local vicar droned on about something or other, and Arthur felt nothing in particular.


Back in a remote corner of northern Thailand carefree children play around Tui?s mother?s burning body. There isn?t much left of it now. All her needs and cares have turned into smoke and drifted skywards with her spirit. Arthur, promoted from farang to khon dee for the occasion, tries to ignore the smell of burning flesh; pokes at the body as reverently as one can with a bamboo stick. With luck somebody will show the same respect for him one day. Organs drop from the torso leaving a surprisingly light ribcage with a leathery arm still attached by one tough old tendon. Snap, crackle, pop, thinks Arthur.


?Arthur!? says his mother?s ghost, ?You stop that immediately! It?s not funny.?


Arthur rearranges the ashes a bit and replaces the empty ribcage. Soon all that is left of his mother-in-law are a few white powdery bones and a small flame above a nicely centered pool of grease bubbling in the ashes. Tui adds some more wood; the flame of life glows brightly for a few minutes, the sizzling stops and the flame is gone. Now what? The old woman had never read a book or even a newspaper in her life. She couldn?t read. Would she be absorbed into the great cosmic consciousness? Or would she come back in another form? Some kind of forest creature perhaps? That would be better than being a voice in someone?s ear.


Her mother had always been a good animist, Tui said, going daily into the forest to commune with nature. Her spirit would probably find a little niche somewhere. What happens to people who can?t, or won?t, believe in anything Arthur wonders?


He looks over at Tui, no spring chicken herself. What is going through her head? People don?t burn their mothers every day but she seems to be taking it in stride.

?Lao khao?? she asks.

?Good idea.? says Arthur who normally can?t stand the stuff. Good old Tui. She always knows what he needs. A drop of lao khao would hit the spot. Followed, with any luck, by an early night and a bit of how?s your father. Viagra? Who needs it.

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KS, A terrific and unexpected piece of work that reminded me of an incident.

One day my gf announced that we were going to Wat Phra Keow, she is rarely insistent, so without argument, I donned my long pants.

It was springtime and really hot; I wanted to cop a taxi and ride in a/c comfort but no, it had to be by express boat from Saphan Taksin, again, reluctant aquiessance on my part.


Normally shy, she boarded the boat like a fullback as she blew thru the crowd and seized a seat along the rail.

As we pulled away from the pier, she opened her bag and out came a small sack of neatly tied silk, she opened it carefully, then introduced me to "Grandfather and Grandmother".

Among the ashes, a few bits of bone and teeth dispelled any doubt I may have had. The family had decided that Granny and Gramps would enjoy a tour of the City of Angles on the Chao Phraya, something they had never done in real life.


There was no ceremony as she tossed the ashes overboard; unfortunatly, the boat was up to speed by this point, so a fair portion of their remains got to travel to further unplanned destinations in the hair-do's of any number of downwind passengers.


I did find myself mulling, as the day moved on, the state of my own remains in the hopefully distant future.

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